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by Jim Foreman


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

Joe announced to the Amarillo City Commission, "Gentlemen, in addition to the daily service by two airlines, we now have five privately owned airplanes based at the Amarillo Municipal Airport. The man that we hired to guard the airport and pump gasoline lacks both the time and ability required to run the place properly, so we need to hire an airport manager."

"How much would an airport manager cost us?" asked Farris.

"Everything considered," replied Joe. "I feel that he should offer at least a hundred fifty dollars per month if we expect to get a qualified person."

"The airport doesn't show that much total revenue from both gasoline sales and hangar rent," said Farris. "How could we justify paying a man that much?"

"An airport is a public utility just like roads and parks," replied Joe. "We don't make any money from the roads but we have to maintain them. The same thing applies to an airport."

"Only people with airplanes can use the airport while everyone can use the roads," said Farris, who seemed to object to everything that was ever brought before the commission, especially if it involved spending money.

"The airport not only serves those who have airplanes, but also the people who send letters by airmail and those who need to use the airline service for rapid travel," said Joe.

"Do you have anyone in mind for the job?" asked one of the commissioners.

"As a matter of fact, I do," replied Joe. "Ed Masterson's son, Robert, is returning from college in the very near future and I feel that he would be a good choice."

"For a job like that, we should advertise for applicants and take the most qualified person," said Farris. "The City of Amarillo doesn't operate under the spoils system."

"If that is a fact, then how did your son become the head of the city utilities department the day that he returned from college?" asked another of the commissioners.

"That was a different situation," said Farris. "He came well qualified for that position and I feel that we were lucky to get him."

"He came with the exact same qualifications as Robert Masterson, a brand new college degree," said Joe.

"What does this Masterson kid know about airplanes?" asked Farris. "Anyone who is expected to run an airport certainly should know how to fly an airplane. That just makes good sense."

"No, Masterson is not a pilot," replied Joe. "I realize that your son could pass water when he took over the job as head of the utility department, but what did he know about producing it."

When the rest of the commissioners finished roaring with laughter, they voted to advertise for an airport manager at a salary of a hundred fifty dollars per month.

Three people applied for the position of Airport Manager; Robert Masterson, Howard Irving and John Polk. Each applicant was interviewed by the members of the commission, after which they met in private to make their selection.

"It`s obvious that John Polk should be eliminated immediately," said Farris. "This man has absolutely no business sense, has been in jail at least a dozen times for various petty offenses and just recently returned from two years in the State Penitentiary down at Huntsville for attempted murder."

The rest of the commissioners agreed with Farris that Polk's application should be rejected, leaving Masterson and Irving in the running for the job.

"Does anyone have anything to say for or against either of the two remaining applicants?" said Joe.

"I think that we should hire Howard Irving for the job because he's a pilot, has been running his own airport and has been around Amarillo for a good number of years," said Farris.

One of the other commissions spoke up, "I feel that young Masterson is the proper choice because he has far more education than Irving, who dropped out of high school to join the Army. About the only thing that Irving has going for him is being able to fly and I still don't see any future in flying."

"I feel that being a pilot has far more to do with being able to run an airport than spending the past four years in college," said Farris. "One year of experience is worth ten years of books, I always say."

"I'd suggest that the proper way to select the man would be for each of us to write the name of our choice on a piece of paper and then have the mayor, who can't vote except in the event of a tie, count them," said another of the commissioners.

When Joe separated the slips of paper into two stacks, there were four in the stack for Irving and four for Masterson. "There are nine commissioners and only eight votes," Joe said after counting the slips of paper a second time.

"I abstained," said Eldon Clark. "Masterson's mother is my sister and I don't want anyone to say that I was responsible for putting relatives on the city payroll."

"In that case, it is a tie vote and I'll cast the deciding vote for Masterson," said Joe.

"You and Ed Masterson have always been thicker than molasses," stormed Farris. "How much is he paying you under the table to throw the job to his kid?"

"Mr. Farris, I take that as a personal insult and I demand an apology," Joe said in a deliberate tone of voice. "I voted the way that I did because I feel that we would be making a grave mistake in selecting Howard Irving to manage our airport. Irving or any other pilot would tend to spend more of his time flying around in an airplane than at his desk running the airport."

"You don't want Irving to get the job because he was man enough to take Grace Hammond away from you. Everyone knows about you and her," said Farris. "This is just your way of getting even with him."

"That is not true," said Joe. "My reason is that I do not intend to allow the City of Amarillo to make the mistake of hiring a drunken bum to run their airport."

The three applicants for the position of airport manager were asked to return to the room and Joe said, "Gentlemen, I appreciate your taking the time to come before us. We found each of you to be well qualified for the position, but unfortunately, only one can be hired. I am pleased to announce that a decision has been reached and the manager of the Amarillo Municipal Airport will be Robert Masterson."

"You have been cheating me out of things all my life!" yelled John Polk as he lunged at Joe but was stopped by several of the commissioners. "I should have killed you years ago when you stole my land from me," he screamed as they hauled him from the room.

The commission meeting broke up and Howard Irving walked with Farris as he made his way back toward the bank. "You told me that you had the job all sewed up for me," said Irving.

"I thought that I did until Joe Armitage opened his mouth," said Farris.

"I didn't think that he had any say in commission decisions unless he had to vote to break a tie. I counted all nine commissioners there," said Irving.

"There were only eight votes cast, four for you and four for Masterson. One of the commissioners abstained."

"Did Armitage give a reason for going against me?" asked Irving.

"He said that he didn't intend to allow the City of Amarillo to make the mistake of hiring a drunken bum to run their airport," he replied.

Howard Irving walked away without saying another word. A week later, Todd Hammond, wealthy playboy and brother of Howard's wife, landed his new Waco Cabin Biplane on Irving's strip. For the next two weeks, they flew over the area to the east of Amarillo, looking at various pieces of property from the air. A month later, Irving filed the deed to a section and a half of land at the court house. It was located on the south side of the road to Panhandle and about five miles east of the Municipal Airport.

"I noticed in the newspaper that Howard Irving bought a sizable piece of land way out east of town," Joe mentioned to Roger Bates while they were having coffee one morning. "Did you get to handle the deal?"

"I try to keep my ear to the ground on all land deals around this area, but the first thing that I knew about this one was when John Polk came to me to see if I could get Irving to buy his half section too. Irving bought three of the four half-sections of land which Ellis Polk left to his four grandchildren when he died. John Polk said that he always got the short end of the stick, even when something was given to him. He got the eastern half section, the one that Irving didn't want. I contacted Irving about John's half section but he said that he couldn't afford it and didn't need it."

"Why on earth would he be buying such a large piece of land so far out of town?" asked Joe.

"He said that he lost his lease on that place out by the smelter," replied Roger. "The owners wanted to get possession of it back so they can sell it to the smelter. They are planning to expand and needed that land."

"A section and a half of land represents a good bit of money, at least ten thousand dollars," said Joe. "Flying airplanes must be paying off pretty well for him."

"Irving couldn't buy twenty acres out of his own pocket. He most likely got the money from his wife," said Roger. I hear that her family is pretty well off."

"They ought to be. After all, her dad was the founder and developer of the city of Hammond, California and now he is making piles of money in the movies."

Joe didn't give any more thought to Irving and his land purchase for several weeks until Roger dropped by his office one morning and said, "Come drive out to the Irving land with me. I want to show you something that you might find most interesting."

When they arrived, Joe was amazed to see a huge airplane hangar going up. It was obviously much larger than the one at Amarillo Municipal. A huge crane was in the process of lifting steel arches in place to form the roof. They got out of the car and walked around to look at the progress. The concrete floor of the hangar extended several hundred feet to form a paved ramp. On the south side of the ramp a glazed-tile office building some twenty by sixty feet in size was being erected. There was a single large room at the front of the building with plate glass windows giving a panoramic view of the ramp. There were several smaller offices and two bathrooms toward the rear of the building.

Roger stepped off the distance across the front of the hangar and then down one side. "This thing is going to be a hundred twenty feet wide by two forty deep."

"That is one awfully big hangar just to house Irving's two puddle jumpers," said Joe.

"He must be planning to use a lot of gasoline too, look at the size of those three tanks over there," said Roger. "Each one of them must hold at least ten thousand gallons."

"Do you realize that we are looking at well over a hundred thousand dollars worth of construction," said Joe. "There is no way that he can ever hope to recover an investment of this size, much less ever make it profitable."

"I'll say," replied Roger as they walked back to his car. "I checked the distance out here and it is nine miles from town. We are almost half way to Panhandle. Nobody in their right mind would build an airport way out in the middle of the country."

There was no grand opening of Irving Field when it was finished. Howard simply flew his two airplanes over there and began the same type of operation that he had out by the smelter. He would take passengers for rides and give a few lessons now and then.

It was the first day of June and Joe had driven out to the Municipal Airport to pick up a man who was to arrive on the Western Air Express airplane from Kansas City. He stood in front of the hangar, waiting for his arrival. The first airplane Joe heard was the Ford Tri-motor inbound from the west so he walked out on the ramp to watch it land.

The big airliner rumbled over Amarillo, its three polished propellers spinning in the sunlight. It was headed directly toward him, following the railroad, or iron compass as the pilots called it. As it came abreast of the airport, instead of turning into a landing pattern, it continued on to the east.

"Where is he going?" Joe asked Robert, who had joined him to watch the airliner land.

"Probably just missed the field with the sun in his face," said Robert. "As soon as he reaches the radio range station, he will realize where he is and come back."

They watched the airplane as it continued eastward for two or three more miles, angled away from the railroad, made a turn to the right and begin to descend for a landing.

"It looks as if he is landing over at Irving's Field," said Joe.

"He must really be lost," said Robert as they watched the airplane disappear from sight. "He'll realize his mistake and be back here in a few minutes."

While they watched, the Fokker Universal came into view from the northeast, approached Irving Field, turned and also landed. "Come go with me," said Joe. "We have to find out what's going on."

They roared toward Irving Field in Joe's big Cadillac, kicking up a cloud of dust. "Come to think of it," said Robert. "I didn't see any passengers and you were the only person who came out to meet the planes. Not only that, but the truck wasn't here to pick up the airmail either."

When Joe and Robert arrived, the place was a beehive of activity. Several passengers were getting on the Ford while others waited for the Fokker to be filled with gasoline. Several other people were getting aboard a new touring bus with a sign on each door which read, "Irving Field Transportation". Inside the air conditioned office building, people were milling around the two ticket counters. One was marked Western Air Express and the other Transcontinental and Western Air.

"It doesn't appear that there was any mistakes about where the airplanes were supposed to land," said Joe. "Now we need to find out how and why this happened to us."

Officially, all that Joe could learn from talking with the local station managers was that the main offices of the two airlines had instructed their Amarillo offices to make the change of the first day of June. On that date, all operations would be transferred from Amarillo Municipal Airport to Irving Field. The truth of the matter was that Todd Hammond, who had furnished the money to buy the land and erect the buildings at Irving Field, had also bought fifty thousand dollars worth of stock in each of the two airlines in exchange for their agreement to change their bases of operation in Amarillo.


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